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Marist Bulletin - Number 70


Brother Ramon Bereicua Basauri, 44 years as a missionary in Japan

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Br. Lluís Serra

Brother Ramón Bereicua Basauri, 71, was born in Soraluze-Placencia de las Armas, in the Basque Province of Guipúzcoa, Spain. Upon graduating from a Marist Brothers primary school, he went on to the Juniorate and Novitiate in Anzuola, Guipúzcoa, and the Scholasticate in Grugliasco and Bairo in Italy. Ramon has a Licentiate in Literature from the University of London, and a Masters Degree in Linguistics from New York University. He’s been a language teacher, director of the Brothers’ communities in Kobe and Kumamoto, and principal in Kumamoto. Currently he is a member of the Board of Directors of both secondary schools, the Brother in charge of our Japan Sector, and the legal representative of the Marist Brothers in Japan.

Having lived in Japan for so many years, you probably have some very positive impressions.
Since the day I arrived in Japan back in 1959 – 44 years ago – in all frankness, I have to tell you that I’m in love with this country. I feel so fortunate to have lived here for more than half of my life. I’m forever thanking God for choosing me to be a missionary in this land. It has such a fascinating and intriguing culture, so rich in human values and artistic treasures, and so different from our own. I sincerely believe that Japan has provided me with far more than what I’ve been able to give in return. In drawing near to this my adopted country in such an intimate and personal way, my mastery of the Japanese language has been the key, the absolutely essential factor in my inculturation. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to respond as I have.

You come from the Basque country, how did you wind up in Japan?
Yes, I’m very very Basque, even though I hail from a town by the Deva river basin that for centuries was the nerve center for the tremendously important weapons industry that supplied arms for the Spanish Empire in its unrestrained eagerness to conquer the world. As a descendent of gunsmiths, I have a lot of powder and explosive charges in my DNA...
Ever since I was very young I felt I had a vocation to be a missionary. As a boy I got to hear about the missionary exploits of a neighboring family, the Bolumburus, with whom we had frequent contact. There were five missionaries in that family, three Jesuits and two religious sisters, in China and Japan. My education with the Marist brothers, as well as the example of missionary brothers at the Juniorate and Novitiate, contributed enormously to my holding fast to this distinctive vocation. All of this led me to volunteer for the missions and put myself at the disposition of Brother Leonida, the Superior General. My first assignment was in Sri Lanka, where I arrived in 1951. A precious tropical island where I had the opportunity to personally enter into an ancient and brilliant civilization, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and a vibrant Catholicism introduced by St. Francis Xavier. In 1959, when the government set about nationalizing Catholic Schools, with a heavy heart I had to quickly leave the country and embark on another mission, in Japan.

Ever since the time of St. Francis Xavier, evangelizing Japan has been a dream, but it seems the Church has yet to meet with much success...
St. Francis Xavier is still very admired here because he had a special place in his heart for the Japanese people. He enjoyed a lot of success during his brief apostolate and he created a very flourishing mission. After that, however, there was a merciless persecution that lasted for some 250 years. Thousands of Japanese gave their lives rather than renounce their faith. It’s true that we haven’t had much success... but we must never lose faith and the mission has to move forward.

Is it true that the prevailing agnosticism of the Japanese people is rooted in their no longer believing in the divinity of the Emperor since the end of the Second World War, after atomic bombs devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
When World War II ended in 1945, for about ten years a great many Japanese showed increasing interest in the Catholic Church. There were many baptisms and many missionaries arrived hopeful of obtaining massive conversions, but this popular movement didn’t last very long. Industrialization, economic success, and the pursuit of pleasure and creature comforts came on the scene, undermining the search for the transcendental, giving rise to an ever-increasing agnosticism and syncretism.

When did the Marist Brothers first arrive in Japan?
The 1949 revolution in China almost put an end to our Marist presence in that country, and the brothers who were expelled tried to found new Marist missions in other countries on the Asian Continent. The first two brothers to arrive in Kobe, in 1951, came from St. Louis, the Marist secondary school in Tientsin.

Some years ago, Kobe suffered a major earthquake, and Marist International School was left in ruins. What is the situation today?
As long as I live I’ll never forget that morning of January 17, 1995. More than 6,000 people died in our city of Kobe. The school and brothers’ residence lay in ruins. With massive aid from the Catholic Church and our many friends and supporters, as well as a certain amount of involvement by government agencies in the country, we have been able to rebuild the school and construct a new residence. We still have outstanding bank loans. We live in hope for generous hands to come to our aid.

As I understand it, there is another school here in Japan that is carrying on our Marist traditions, even though there are no longer any brothers there.
Yes, our great coeducational high school in Kumamoto. Because we are short of brothers, there aren’t any more at the school, although I continue to serve on its Board of Directors. Our lay partners running the school are confident that someday the brothers will be able to return.

How many brothers are Japanese?
At present we have two, Brothers Joseph Yoshida and Bernard Yamaguchi.

You’re living in a community of three brothers. It seems that ministry to people from Latin America is an increasingly important reality.
Yes, here in Kobe we form a community of three brothers, and live next door to the international school. Nowadays one of the great challenges facing the Catholic Church in Japan is to provide pastoral care for Latin Americans. For the last two decades the Catholic population in Japan has doubled with the arrival of thousands of Latin American immigrants – Brazilians, Peruvians, Bolivians, to go along with a sizable population of Filipinos. There are several dioceses in which these immigrants now constitute a majority. We have more pastoral work than we can keep up as it is, notwithstanding that additional care is needed for this whole new world that is settling in Japan. Mitte Domine operarios in messem tuam! Lord, send out workers to gather your harvest!

What does the future hold for our Marist presence in Japan?
In spite of a lack of personnel and the huge problems that we have had to confront in recent years, I’m optimistic about the future of our Marist life and work in Japan. I’m convinced that, in a special way, Champagnat’s dream of being present in every diocese in the world includes those in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The recent regional meeting of Marist leaders in Asia, held in Hong Kong, should open up new lines of cooperation and mutual aid in our efforts to revitalize our Marist life and mission on the Asian Continent, above all in Japan.

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